Fueling fleets with CNG a gas?

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Matt Shmigelsky works as an energy coach, a consultant whose duties include helping businesses and government entities analyze whether or not to fuel their vehicles with compressed natural gas.

Priced at $1 to $1.50 less than the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline or diesel, the savings associated with CNG quickly adds up over the course of a year and thousands of miles, Shmigelsky said.

There are other benefits, Shmigelsky said, including state tax credits for purchasing alternative-fuel vehicles. That’s not to mention the broader economic benefits of shifting money spent on crude oil imports from foreign countries to natural gas produced in the United States, including Western Colorado.

It’s a message Shmigelsky hopes to spread in Mesa County as part of a year-long pilot project promoting the increased use of alternative-fuel vehicles in fleets.

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a luncheon briefing on the effort for noon March 12 at its offices.

Shmigelsky works as an energy coach for Clear Energy Economy for the Region. Based in Carbondale, the nonprofit group manages the Refuel Colorado Fleets project in nine Colorado counties. While the project involves electric plug-ins as well as vehicles fueled by propane and even biofuels, efforts in Mesa and Garfield counties focus on CNG.

The project initially promoted efforts to construct a public CNG fueling station in Glenwood Springs. But attention soon will shift to promoting the increased use of CNG in fleets in Mesa County, Shmigelsky said.

Free technical assistance is available to businesses and government entities considering CNG. The analysis takes into account a variety of factors, among them the age, condition and use of vehicles; the distance they’re driven; the cost of purchasing and operating CNG vehicles; the potential savings associated with lower fuel costs; and the time required to recoup the additional cost of purchasing CNG vehicles.

The savings associated with the lower cost of CNG compared to gasoline and diesel remains the most important factor, Shmigelsky said. “That’s really the key driver.”

But state tax credits constitute yet another variable in the equation, he said. For 2014, businesses that purchase an alternative fuel vehicle will receive a 25 percent tax credit off the difference in cost between that vehicle and a comparable vehicle fueled with gasoline.

Still other developments have made the switch to CNG more attractive, Shmigelsky said, including the growing number of companies manufacturing vehicles specifically for CNG and offering factory warranties. Moreover, dealerships offer maintenance and repair services for CNG vehicles. “That is really a big step forward.”

Barriers to more widespread use of CNG remain, though, chief among them a chicken-and-egg dilemma of sorts. What should come first: increased use of CNG and, therefore, demand for CNG fueling stations or the stations that make increased use possible?

There has been some progress on addressing that issue, Shmigelsky said, with public stations now operating in Grand Junction, Parachute and Rifle. Additional stations on the Western Slope, the Front Range and nationwide make it possible to drive across Colorado and the United States.

In addition, $15 million in government funding has been earmarked to promote the construction of  more stations in Colorado, offering grants of up to $500,000 to install infrastructure at a station and thereby reduce the risk involved in such ventures, he said.

Meanwhile, the increased use of CNG in a number of existing fleets offers an example of what can be done, Shmigelsky said. That includes trash trucks operated by the City of Grand Junction and buses operated by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.


The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce will host a presentation on the Refuel Colorado Fleets project during an energy briefing set for noon March 12 at the chamber offices at 360 Grand Ave. Admission to the luncheon presentation is $15. To register or obtain more information, call the chamber at 242-3214. More information, including free technical assistance in analyzing the use of alternative-fuel vehicles in fleets, is available by contacting Clean Energy Economy for the Region by telephone at (970) 704-9200 or online at www.GarfieldCleanEnergy.org.